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Acknowledging the wisdom of Matisseís remark that all artists should have their tongues cut out, Iíll nevertheless foolishly make a stab at some kind of general definition of my intentions. In all my work Iím involved with trying to document and explore the disjointed present. As far back as I can remember, Iíve always been drawn to the comic and the absurd side of life. My earliest visual influences were the same as most suburban kids in the early sixties ó cartoons and comic books.

Regardless of any later sophistication overlaid through the art education process, those two influences have just as much power as anything Iíve experienced since. Over the years, Iíve picked up other influences and affinities from such diverse sources as the Northern European painters, Heironymous Bosch, Pieter Bruegel, James Ensor, Persian and Indian miniature painting, the Surrealists, the Chicago Imagists, so-called Outsider Art, and the underground comics of the 60s and 70s.

I prefer to let my subconscious, as far as possible, be the reigning authority on the overall direction and feeling of my work I try to make as much room as possible for chance inclusions. I think of my working process as a kind of dreaming with my eyes open. The world I dream inside my studio mirrors the world outside it ó the sprawling chaos presented through our various media--driven and dominated by irrational emotions, rarely leavened by reason. It strikes me as sometimes humorous, sometimes frightening. In looking over the evolution of my work over the last few years, itís apparent that itís increasingly coming to reflect a new Dark Ages, but one seen through a kind of comic-apocalyptic lens.

I donít and never have followed any established dogma in making my art. I veered away from any institutional notion of art theory or art history early on, feeling that attempts to systematize meaning through verbal fabrications are beside the point when it comes to looking at art, including this present attempt. As far as I know, they present no rational scheme or purpose. I could easily supply any number of vague notions about what they mean, but their meaning isnít my primary interest or concern. My concern is seeing and exploring a deeply personal internal vision, the shape of which only becomes apparent to me through the process of making the paintings and other works.

As I work, Iím aware that Iím looking for something, that Iím somehow shaping and refining something. The thing Iím shaping is evanescent ó present one moment and vanishing the next. Over the years Iíve become accustomed to the mercurial nature of my creative process.

Forms emerge. I watch them, let them dance in my mindís eye. I bring something forward, I take something out, I alter a line or a color. All the time, there is a dialog going on with an other.

Where do the forms come from? One source recently became clear to me when I rented a dvd of the 1961 Disney movie ďBabes in Toyland.Ē The story was typical Disneyesque childish gibberish. But the sets, costumes, colors, facial gesticulations, etc. were mesmerizing even now.

The impact of having my subconscious bathed in those strange surreal fantasy worlds is inescapable. Long before being shaped by the Vietnam war and the psychedelic drug culture, my visual world was being shaped by popular culture fever dreams. I remember being in my Uncles guest room at night watching the wallpaper metamorphose in all manner of bizarre. Vasari speaks of the same faculty in Piero di Cosimo, so itís nothing new ó only intensified by the visual diet that our culture supplies its children.

Lately Iíve been thinking a lot of the painter Philip Guston. His struggle to reintroduce narrative to painting in a time when there are no longer any coherent narratives is something that I feel particularly interested in. I have the same sense in my own work--that there is some hidden structure that Iím trying to illuminate. And being simultaneously aware at the same time of my lack of belief in any such structure. The whole enterprise of painting often seems fraught with paradox. What could be more absurd and paradoxical than day after day looking at a completely flat surface, dressed with dumb and inert pigments, and seeing forms moving in space, characters emerging and cavorting with each other?

 

 

Bartley Johnson
Aardbart and Son Press
132 Cottonwood Road
Corrales, NM 87048
505 890 5544
www.aardbart.com

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